Washington State's recount procedures

News Release
Issued: November 17, 2000

OLYMPIA -- With some races going down to the wire in absentee balloting, state election officials are emphasizing that Washington state has a longstanding process for vote recounts, a process that promotes voter confidence by being orderly, fair, and reliable.

State law requires a machine recount in any race where the final results show a difference of one-half of one percent or less between the top two candidates. With absentee ballots still being counted around the state, election officials say there is a possibility of mandatory recounts in two statewide races - U.S. Senate and Secretary of State - and in some legislative contests.

Secretary of State Ralph Munro, Washington's chief elections officer, stressed that Washington's automatic recount process has been in effect for many years, and that it applies to all offices, regardless of the size of the jurisdiction, and to statewide ballot measures.

"The same procedures are in effect whether it’s a race for school board or a statewide office," said Munro. "Because we have a mandatory recount somewhere in the state almost every year, our local election administrators are very familiar with the process."

There have been three mandatory statewide recounts in the past 25 years, all on statewide ballot measures. In each instance, the recount did not change the outcome of the vote. The closest contest occurred in 1977 on I-348, a gas-tax rollback initiative, which was defeated by 884 votes. The last recount on a statewide elective office occurred in the 1968 Attorney General's race, when Republican Slade Gorton defeated Democrat John McCutcheon by 5,368 votes.

Under the law, a mandatory recount is not triggered until the affected county or counties have certified the final results. This year, county election departments must complete their tabulations and certify the results on Wednesday, Nov. 22.

If a mandatory recount is indicated in any race, Munro said, the Secretary of State's office will notify the affected counties on Monday, Nov. 27, which would allow the recount to begin on Wednesday, Nov. 29. The length of time required to complete the recount would depend on the number of ballots to be counted, and the type of voting system used. In many instances, especially in smaller counties, a machine recount would be completed within a day of being started.

In races where the top two candidates receive a combined total of more than 60,000 votes, a manual (hand) recount is required when the difference between the two is less than 150 votes. In races with fewer than 60,000 votes, a manual recount is triggered by a difference of less than one-quarter of one percent.

Candidates also have the option of requesting a full or partial recount, but they must pay for it unless the outcome of the race is reversed. Before a requested recount can proceed, the candidate must post a security of 5 cents per each ballot to be recounted.

The law also makes it clear that there shall be no more than two recounts of ballots in any given race.

In any recount, county canvassing boards are required to set a specific time for the re-tallying to begin, and to give the affected candidates advance notice of the time and place of the recount.

The process is open to the public, subject to procedures adopted by the county auditor or elections officer. Each candidate is allowed to designate a proxy if he or she cannot be present for the recount.

As with all election procedures, the process is monitored by official election observers appointed by the state's major political parties.

Once a recount is completed, the results are certified by the county canvassing board and forwarded to the Secretary of State. By law, the Secretary of State must certify the results of the general election by Dec 7.